EDITORIAL: Smoking levy

Agreement on Tuesday among legislative conference committee members on raising Mississippi’s tobacco tax to 68 cents per pack offers hope that higher costs will stop thousands from smoking – and dying from smoking-related diseases.
The conferees unanimously agreed.
The current 18-cents-per-pack tax is shamefully low, offering no incentive to stop smoking or never start, especially among young people.
Raising the tax by 50 cents will drive the cost of a pack of cigarettes to between $4.50 and $5, all federal taxes and state sales taxes included.
The new per-pack levy is projected to generate about $112 million per year. If it’s enacted to start May 15 it would produce about $30 million in the balance of the 2009 fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Smokeless tobacco taxes and taxes on non-premium cigarettes and cigars weren’t raised. They should have been included, and that issue needs to be revisited.
If the tax works as hoped in reducing smoking, the total revenue eventually could decline unless Mississippi’s population grows dramatically and the number of smokers also increases.
The central issues in raising the tax are reducing smoking statewide, saving lives and saving Mississippi taxpayers’ money in treating people who suffer from smoking-induced diseases.
Those issues long ago departed center stage as debate shifted to how a higher cigarette tax could finance one need or another. The most recent lure is holding down the cost of auto license plates, a goal that apparently could be met if the 68-cent rate is enacted.
Because the Legislature prefers dealing with the cigarette tax in economic terms, here are some facts offered by the Centers for Disease Control:
– Cigarette smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke are associated with premature death from chronic diseases, economic losses to society, and a substantial burden on the health-care system. Smoking is the primary causal factor for at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths, for nearly 80 percent of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and for early cardiovascular disease and deaths.
– During 2000-2004, cigarette smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke resulted in at least 443,000 premature deaths and approximately 5.1 million years of potential life lost.
– Smoking causes $96.8 billion in productivity losses annually in the United States.
Preventing smoking and increasing cessation rates can be achieved. Causes of death like lung cancer could become relatively uncommon.
Pass the tax; start collecting it this month.


Joe Rutherford

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